Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

From falling life expectancy to working from home, here's the data on how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted everyday well-being in Italy.

Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy's quality of life
How has the pandemic changed daily life in Italy? Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

A year since Italy went into its first nationwide lockdown, the country’s statistics office Istat has released new figures revealing some of the measurable effects the coronavirus emergency has had on quality of life.

Istat’s annual BES Report measures “equitable and sustainable well-being in Italy”, using a wide range of indicators across health, employment, education and personal satisfaction.

The latest edition shows just how much things changed in 2020, as these key statistics demonstrate.

  • Life expectancy has fallen by nearly a year. 

For many years Italy has boasted one of the longest life expectancies in Europe. But with the spread of the coronavirus, its ageing population was especially vulnerable to falling sick.

Italy’s more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 mainly affected the elderly, with the result that Italy’s national average life expectancy dropped from 83.2 years in 2019 to 82.3 in 2020.

READ ALSO: 19 unforgettable photos from a year of lockdowns in Italy

The effect was particularly pronounced in the north, where most of Italy’s Covid deaths have been recorded: life expectancy there, the highest in Italy to begin with, fell from 83.6 years to 82.1. In the region of Lombardy alone, nearly two and a half years were cut off the average lifetime, shortening it from 83.7 years to 81.2.

According to Istat, the pandemic has wiped out many of the gains made year-on-year since 2010, when Italy’s average life expectancy was 81.7.

  • People in Italy are less sedentary, but more are overweight.

The proportion of people in Italy who don’t do any physical activity fell from 35.5 percent in 2019 to 33.8 percent in 2020, which Istat attributes partly to the fact that many people took up exercise to pass the time during Italy’s first lockdown last spring.

A man and his daughter exercise on their building’s rooftop terrace in Rome on April 11, 2020. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

But all the extra hours spent at home, combined with increased food and alcohol intake for many, also contributed to a slight rise in obesity: 45.5 percent of adults in Italy were overweight in 2020 compared to 44.9 percent in 2019.

  • Women and older people are in worse mental health. 

While younger adults overall reported that their mental well-being stayed roughly the same or even improved between 2019 and 2020, people over 75 – who were in poorer mental health to begin with – said theirs had worsened.

The effect was particularly pronounced in the north of Italy, where residents spent longest under lockdown, as well as among women of all age groups.

Mental health compared by age group and gender, assessed by a standardised survey.

In fact women aged 20-24 reported one of the biggest drops in mental well-being, followed by women aged 25-34 and 65-74 – which may reflect the fact that women have accounted for most of Italy’s job losses in the pandemic, as well as taking over most of the extra childcare duties.

  • Unemployment has risen, especially among women and young people.

Employment among 20 to 64-year-olds fell from 64 percent in 2019 to 62 percent in 2020, reflecting hundreds of thousands of job losses and interrupting five years of continuous improvement.

That has widened the distance between Italy and the rest of the European Union, where even despite the pandemic average employment rate stood at 71.6 percent in 2020.

READ ALSO: ‘Left behind’: Why are so many women unemployed in Italy – and what’s being done about it?

Women in Italy have been hit hardest: female employment fell by 2.3 percentage points to 52.1 percent, resulting in a gap of nearly 20 percent between women’s employment and men’s. That’s close to double the average EU gender gap of around 11 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of people aged 15-29 not in education, employment or training rose to 23.9 percent in the second half of 2020, compared to 21.2 percent a year earlier. 

  • More families say they’re worse off.

Unsurprisingly, more households reported that their financial situation had worsened in the past 12 months: 28.8 percent in 2020 compared to 25.8 percent in 2019.

And more than 5.6 million people – 9.4 percent of everyone in Italy – were estimated to be in absolute poverty in 2020, up from 7.7 percent in 2019 and the highest level since records began 15 years ago.

The poverty rate increased fastest in Italy’s wealthier north, where it jumped from 6.8 percent in 2019 to 9.4 percent in 2020.

READ ALSO: How Milan’s ‘new poor’ are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic

People in need wait prior to take a bag with free food in Milan. (Photo by Miguel Medina / AFP)
  • More people are working from home.

Italy began 2020 with one of the lowest rates of remote working of any country in the EU (less than 5 percent of the workforce).

By the second half of the year, more than 19 percent of workers were working from home at least one day a week, with the rate rising as high as 60 percent among people working in IT, communications or teaching.

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

That may be one of the reasons that work satisfaction is up, despite all the instability: 55.7 percent of workers said they were satisfied with their job in the second half of 2020, compared to 53.9 percent in 2019 (though self-employed people reported being notably less satisfied than employees).

  • More people are using the internet.

In 2019 in Italy, where internet uptake has been notoriously slow, 66.7 percent of people over 11 used the internet at least once a week. In 2020 the figure rose to 69.2 percent, the highest increase of the past seven years. 

While the vast majority of children and young adults were already using it regularly, the biggest change in habits has been among people in their 60s and early 70s.

Regular internet use compared between different age groups.

The number of households with internet access also rose, from 76.1 percent to 79.6 percent.

  • At least 8 percent of pupils didn’t keep up with distance learning. 

According to Istat’s survey of state and private schools in Italy, at least 8 percent of students did not participate in video lessons and other forms of remote learning in the 2019/20 school year. 

For students with disabilities, the percentage was even higher: 23 percent may have been left behind.

  • People are reading more.

Some 23.7 percent of people read at least four books in 2020, up from 22.3 in 2019. 

The percentage of people who read the news at least three times a week also rose slightly, from 25.2 to 25.5 percent.

People read the newspaper in Rome on April 16, 2020. (Photo by Andreas Solaro / AFP)

That could be because people spent less time working or studying, not necessarily by choice, as schools and businesses closed: 69.4 percent of people over 14 said they had enough free time in 2020, up from 68 percent in 2019.

Or it could be that there’s not much else to do. Aside from bars and restaurants closing and social gatherings being discouraged, other venues like cinemas, theatres and museums were closed for most of 2020 – with the result that the percentage of children and adults participating in cultural activities outside their own home dropped from 35.1 percent in 2019 to 30.8 percent in 2020.

  • People are more engaged in politics.

After declining for most of a decade, political and civic engagement reversed the trend and actually increased in 2020, rising from 57.9 percent in 2019 to 62.5 percent last year.

Amid the pandemic 56.4 percent of people over 14 said they followed politics (+3.7 percent from 2019), 36 percent said they discussed it (+3.1 percent), and 15 percent shared they shared their views about it online (+4.9 percent).

Meanwhile the percentage of people donating to charity climbed from 13.4 to 14.8 percent, as people contributed to efforts to support those in need.

  • People have lower expectations for the future.

Since 2016, people in Italy have generally reported feeling optimistic about the future: the percentage of people over 14 who said they expected their situation to improve over the next five years has risen steadily each year, reaching 30.1 percent in 2019.

Yet in 2020 the figure fell to 28.9 percent, the lowest it has been since 2017.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s crisis-hit economy set to improve in the coming months?

Some 12.6 percent of people now say they expect things to get worse for them over the next five years, compared to 12 percent in 2019. 

Negative expectations increased most in the regions of Tuscany (+4 percent), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (3.8 percent) and Piedmont (+3.1 percent). Meanwhile Molise bucked the trend, with just 9.3 percent of residents feeling pessimistic in 2020 compared to 13 percent in 2019.

  • Overall, life satisfaction is up.

It may seem contradictory, but 44.5 percent of people in Italy aged 14 and up say they are satisfied with their lives, according to Istat. While still less than half the population, it’s an increase from 43.2 percent in 2019.

In part that’s because there are a series of long-term trends that mean life in Italy is gradually getting better in many ways, and which the pandemic has not reversed.


Among other things, deaths from preventable diseases continue to fall; there are a few more women in positions of power in business and politics; burglaries are down and people’s sense of safety is up; and the number of young people in higher education keeps rising, albeit slowly.

But Istat suggests that the pandemic could actually have contributed to life satisfaction in various ways – by bringing families and neighbours closer, for example, or by encouraging people to be grateful for what they have.

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Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

Italy, which has for years recorded one of Europe's lowest birth rates, is on track to lose a fifth of its population in 50 years, official data suggests.

Italy heading for demographic 'crisis' as population set to shrink by a fifth
Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The Istat national statistics agency wrote that the data marked “a potential picture of crisis” in its report on Friday, titled “The future of the population – fewer residents, more older people, smaller families.”

Nearly a quarter of Italy’s population is aged 65 or older, at 23.2 percent, and that is expected to grow to 35 percent by 2050, according to Istat’s estimate.

“The age structure of the population already shows a high imbalance in favour of the older generations and there are currently no factors that might suggest a reversal of this trend,” read the report.

“Demographic forecasts show that there is little likelihood of a turnaround in the number of births in the years to come.”


Italy’s population is expected to decrease from 59.6 million people in January 2020 to 47.6 million in 2070, it predicted, representing a drop of 20 percent.

Whereas in 2020, the average age of Italians was 45.7, it is expected to rise to 50.7 by 2050, Istat said.

And continuing a trend begun in 2007, in which deaths have surpassed births each year, within less than three decades, deaths are expected to outweigh births by a factor of two, 784,000 against 391,000.

Istat wrote that immigration from abroad to Italy should begin to recover after the Covid-19 pandemic, and beginning in 2023 regain its pre-pandemic average levels at about 280,000 immigrants per year, although that is expected to decrease gradually to 244,000 annually by 2070.

Emigration, which is also expected to recover its pre-pandemic levels, is expected to decrease from 145,000 annual departures in 2025 to 126,000 in 2070.

Italy’s population is getting older as fewer births are recorded. Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

Last year, the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 — roughly the size of the city of Florence — as deaths peaked, births bottomed out and immigration slowed down.

In 2012, Italy saw births fall to the lowest level since it became a nation state in 1861, to around 534,000. Since then, new record lows have been established every year.

In 2020, as coronavirus swept the country, the figure fell to 404,000.

How Italy is responding to the population drop

Italy has long counted among one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, and the situation has only been made worse by the coronavirus crisis.

In reaction to continuously falling birth rates, the Italian government vowed to support women and couples to have a family, including the introduction of a universal single allowance.

The authorities gave the green light to the measure earlier this month, providing a monthly benefit to those who have children, from the seventh month of pregnancy until the child reaches the age of 21.


What a family receives is based on household income, according to the socio-economic indicator the government uses to calculate benefits, known as ISEE.

Approved by Italy’s government cabinet, the Council of Ministers, the single and universal child allowance (L’assegno unico e universale) varies depending on the ISEE and the age of the children, except for disabled children for whom there is no age limit.

It ranges from €175 to €50 per month for each child under 18, while from 18 to 21 years old, the contribution is on a scale from €85 to €25.

The allowance unifies and replaces a series of measures to support families – hence the term ‘unico‘. It’s also called ‘universal’ because it is granted to all families with dependent children resident in Italy.

Families can begin applying for the new benefit from January 1st 2022, although there is currently a temporary ‘bridge allowance’ in place to cover groups of families that have so far been excluded from government family help.

Introduced in July, families can submit an application under the current interim rules for financial assistance until December 31st.

The universal single allowance forms part of the country’s wider strategy, its so-called Family Act, which is intended to help make starting a family in the country a more affordable and realistic prospect.

The benefit can be accessed by anyone who pays taxes in Italy and has been resident in the country for at least two years.

Italian and EU citizens and holders of residence permits for work or research purposes for at least six months are eligible.